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  • 1/18/2005

Faust Vrančić

humanist, philosopher, historian, lexicographer, and inventor

(1551 - January 17, 1617, Venice)

Since as a youth Vrančić was interested in science, he attended schools in Padua (Padova) and Venice, where he focused on mathematics, engineering and mechanics. On the court of king Rudolf the II in Hradcany in Prague Vrančić was his Chancellor for Hungary and Transylvania in touch with Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. After his wife's death, he left for Hungary and later for Venice to join the brotherhood of St. Paul in 1609, where he committed himself to science.

He was the author of a five-language dictionary,"Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europeae linguarum; Latinae, Italicae, Germanicae, dalmaticae et Hungaricae", published in Venice in 1595, with 5,000 entries for each language. The term Dalmatian was at that time used to define the Slavic language spoken from the Adriatic coast to as far as the Danube and Drava rivers. The language was called Croatian after the second edition of it appeared in Prague, edited by Peterus Lodereckerus, and is how it is called today.

In an extension of the dictionary called Vocabula dalmatica quae Ungri sibi usurparunt, there is a list of Croatian words that entered the Hungarian language. The book greatly influenced the formation of both Croatian and Hungarian orthography; the Hungarian language accepted his suggestions, for example, the usage of ly, ny, sz, and cz. It was also the first dictionary of the Hungarian language, printed four times, in Venice, Prague (1606), Pozun (1834), what is nowadays Bratislava in Slovakia, and in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1971. The work was an important source of inspiration for other European dictionaries; among them:

Hungarian and Italian written by Bernardino Balli

German Thesaurus polyglottus by humanist and lexicographer Hieronim Megister

Multilingual Dictionarium septem diversarum linguarum by Peterus Lodereckerus of Prague in 1605 in Latin, Italian, Bohemian, Polish, German, Hungarian, Dalmatian. The author edited the second edition of Vrancic's work and renamed the Dalmatian language for the first time into "Croatian".

Technical research

Vrančić's book on mechanics, Machinae novae (Venice 1595), contained 40 large pictures depicting 56 different machines, devices, and technical concepts. The sensational book was soon translated into Italian, Spanish, French and German.

Vrančić had examined Leonardo da Vinci's rough sketches of a parachute, and set out to implement a parachute of his own. A now-famous sketch of parachute that he dubbed Homo volans appeared in the aforementioned book. Twenty years later, he implemented his design and tested the parachute by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617. The event was documented some 30 years after it happened in a book written by John Wilkins, the secretary of the Royal Society in London.

His areas of interest in engineering and mechanics were broad. Mills were his main point of research, where he created 18 different designs. He envisioned windmills with both vertical and horizontal axes, with different wing construction to improve their efficiency. The idea of a mill powered by tides incorporated accumulation pools filled with water by the high tide and emptied when the tide ebbed, simply using gravity; the concept has just recently been engineered and used.

Ordered by the Pope, he envisioned and made projects needed for regulating rivers, since Rome was often flooded by the Tiber river. He also tackled the problem of the wells and water supply of Venice, which is surrounded by sea. Devices to register the time using water, fire, or other methods were envisioned and materialized. His own sun clock was effective in reading the time, date, and month, but functioned only in the middle of the day. The construction method of building metal bridges and the mechanics of the forces in the area of statics were also part of his research. The last area was described when further developed in a separate book by mathematician Simon de Bruges (Simon Stevin) in 1586.

History and philosophy

Only a few of his works related to history remain: Regulae cancellariae regni Hungariae and De Slavinis seu Sarmatis in Dalmatia in manuscript form, while Scriptores rerum hungaricum was published in 1798. In Logica nova and Ethica christiana, in a single Venetian edition in 1616 , he dealt with the problems of theology regarding the ideological clash between the Reformation movement and Catholicism. Tommaso Campanella (1568 - 1639) and the Archbishop of Split and Senj Dominis (1560 - 1624) were his intellectual counterparts.

Lost works

Vrančić published some of his works under the name Veranzo. Many of them were never printed, left in the form of manuscripts. Some were sold to stay in big archives in the capitals of Austria or Hungary, while some were lost forever.

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